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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry

Issue 5 - Evidence - Meeting of February 27, 2014

OTTAWA, Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8:02 a.m., to continue its study on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada.

Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry this morning.


My name is Percy Mockler, senator from New Brunswick and chair of the committee. At this time, I would like to ask all senators to introduce themselves, starting with the deputy chair.

Senator Mercer: My name is Terry Mercer. I'm from Nova Scotia.


Senator Tardif: Good morning; my name is Claudette Tardif, and I am a senator from Alberta.

Senator Maltais: Ghislain Maltais; I am a senator from Quebec.

Senator Rivard: Good morning. My name is Michel Rivard, The Laurentides, Quebec.


Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth from Manitoba.

Senator Ogilvie: Kenneth Ogilvie from Nova Scotia.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

The committee is continuing its study on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada.


We received an order of reference from the Canadian Senate that the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry be authorized to examine and report on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada. In particular, the committee shall be authorized to examine this topic within the following context.


The importance of bees in pollination to produce food, especially fruit and vegetables, seed for crop production, and honey production in Canada; the current state of native pollinators, leafcutter and honeybees in Canada; the factors affecting honeybee health, including disease, parasites and pesticides in Canada and globally; and also strategies for governments and stakeholders, producers and industry to ensure bee health.

This morning, honourable senators, we have three witnesses. We welcome Mr. Paul Kittilsen, member of the Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association.


We also have the honour of receiving Mr. Paul Vautour, Maritime Delegate to the Canadian Honey Council.


Also, from Alberta, Michael Paradis, President, Owner/Operator of Paradis Honey Ltd.

On behalf of the committee, thank you for accepting our invitation to share with us your vision, views and recommendations on the order of reference that we have received from the Senate of Canada.

I have been informed by the clerk that we will start from the east for the presentations, going directly out west. Therefore, we will start with Nova Scotia, to be followed by New Brunswick and then Alberta.

Mr. Kittilsen, the floor is yours.

Paul Kittilsen, Member, Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. On behalf of the Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association, I would like to thank you for your invitation to speak to you about beekeeping in Nova Scotia.

To give you some of my background, I started beekeeping at the age of 16, when I accepted a summer job with a friend of my family. That was 32 years ago. I have kept bees every year since, expanding from three hives to currently over 1,200.

When I started beekeeping, there were approximately 800 beekeepers in Nova Scotia. Beekeeping was relatively easy at that time. While it was hard physical work, there was lots of bee pasture for honey production and the bee population was healthy, threatened by some bacterial diseases and the occasional black bear. Winter losses could be made up from imported U.S.A. packages.

This all started to change in 1987, with the closure of the Canadian border to the importation of honeybees due to the discovery of tracheal mite in the southern United States.

With this border closure, beekeepers in Nova Scotia were now forced to winter all colonies, and the winter losses were made up from splitting or making nucleus hives from successfully wintered colonies. This sparked a new industry. Beekeepers with successfully wintered hives could sell nucleus colonies to other beekeepers. All the same, a number of beekeepers quit the industry because they could not figure out how to successfully winter honeybees. The passage of time has proven that this border closure was a very prudent decision.

While beekeepers in the rest of Canada struggled with these new pests, Nova Scotia beekeepers prospered. Tracheal mites were discovered in Nova Scotia in 1990 in a small operation. It was a small, isolated apiary and these hives were eradicated. Constant surveillance was done for the next five years in this area, and no additional tracheal mites were found in Nova Scotia until 2012. At this time they were found in a larger operation and they were here to stay.

The next big scare to Nova Scotia beekeeping was the discovery of the varroa mite in New Brunswick. It is suspected this mite travelled across the border in a blueberry field in a swarm from the United States. This mite proved to be the biggest plague to bees and beekeepers worldwide. Yet again, the restricted border proved to be an asset to Nova Scotia beekeepers. Varroa mites were not present in Nova Scotia until eight years after their discovery in New Brunswick. This allowed time for control products to be registered and approved for use. It allowed time for Nova Scotia beekeepers to learn from beekeepers in other provinces how to deal with this new pest.

In 1999, there were 156 beekeepers in Nova Scotia, with 19,800 hives going into winter. This number dropped to 17,800 in 2011. The winter of 2013, the current winter, saw 21,200 hives prepared for winter by 245 beekeepers. Why this increase? The increased use the Apivar as a varroa mite control, financial incentives through the Nova Scotia Pollination Expansion Program, and slightly higher returns from pollination contracts and honey sales were all contributors.

Apivar is a varroa mite control product that was recently registered in Canada. It's losing efficacy in the United States, but so far in Canada it continues to be very effective.

In 2012, a four-module course entitled ``The Modern Beekeeper: Basics to Business,'' was developed by the Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association in cooperation with the Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture extended learning department to meet the increasing demand for new and beginning beekeepers. The first course was held last year with full attendance and rave reviews from the attendees. The course is starting again this week with full attendance.

Nova Scotia continues to have among the lowest winter losses of any province in Canada, with one exception in 2009-10. Nova Scotia's winter loss rate is lower than the Canadian average and far lower than the average winter loss of beehives in the United States of America.

In the early years — and this would be back to the 1950s and 1960s — providing a pollination service was growing in popularity. Package bees were available, but increasingly, beekeepers wanted to start overwintering due to the increasing cost of packages and the relative ease of preparing bees for winter and wintering them in Nova Scotia.

Overwintered bees tend to build up faster than package bees. In the early years of providing bees for pollination, beekeepers and blueberry growers agreed that the price of pollination would be equal to the price of a package of bees to start the hive. Some blueberry growers bought bees for the beekeepers in exchange for using the hives for pollination. During these times, this equated to Nova Scotia beekeepers receiving the highest price for pollination services in North America.

Prices for pollination services have fallen below this threshold, despite the increasing cost to control new pests, increasing losses of honeybees and pasture they forage on, increasing demand from blueberry growers for pollination services, and an explosion in the black bear population. Blueberry producers are reluctant to pay more for hive rental because there is uncertainty in the price they will receive for their berries until well after their berries are shipped to the processor.

Most blueberry producers cannot justify seven to eight hives per acre. Most feel that one hive per 2,000 pounds of berries — and therefore, two to three hives to the acre — is an acceptable pollination stocking rate.

The province's ``Buy Local'' honey campaign has pushed the sales of local honey upward within the province. This is an important source of revenue for our beekeepers.

In conclusion, I would like to point out that while beekeeping in Nova Scotia continues to be a gentle art, restricted border access has provided us with protection from many pests of the beehives located outside our borders and provided us time to learn how the rest of North America deals with pests for when they eventually reach our shores. Nova Scotia has shown growth in both hive numbers and the number of beekeepers in the last four years.

We have to remember that in Nova Scotia the apple growers also depend on our hives for pollination. Also, I'd like to point out from the statistics that the number of hives rented for pollination in Nova Scotia was fairly consistent, growing a little bit, but it dropped in 2010 when one major processor cancelled all of its pollination contracts with beekeepers in the middle of April of that year.

That concludes my written presentation, and I'm available to take questions.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Kittilsen.

Mr. Vautour?


Paul Vautour, Maritime Delegate to the Canadian Honey Council, New Brunswick Beekeepers Association: Unfortunately, I do not speak much French, but I can understand everything and sometimes I manage to express myself correctly. I am originally from St. John, a city loyal to England, and I had trouble learning French.

The Chair: You speak French well.


Mr. Vautour: I'm not quite as organized as Paul. I'm here by default. The President of the New Brunswick Beekeepers Association invited me to come speak to you. They didn't feel they had the expertise to do so, and you'll probably understand why when I finish the brief report I have here.

In New Brunswick, the majority of commercial beekeepers, those who provide pollination services or collect honey, could be described as ``serious side-liners.'' They are unable to financially survive without an alternate source of family income. There is no formal schooling in apiculture, no extension service and no organized mentoring.

The provincial organization is totally volunteer and regional branches hold educational field days. There is no funding available for new beekeepers, and their expensive experience is fraught with failure and discouragement. Attempts by the province to spur survival and growth through financial incentives to existing beekeepers — although it was beneficial over the last few years — did not produce significant gains in the number of colonies. Expansion is stifled because of the fear of failure and the cost of borrowing.

Whereas provinces west of New Brunswick are better developed in beekeeping and have more extension resources, we are suffering from inertia. The influence of this committee might be suited to persuade Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and perhaps our province to embark on some type of mentoring or education project for new beekeepers, one that would also help with the cost of start-up.

We understand that the issues of neonicotinoids, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and internal parasites have been widely discussed, so we defer this topic to the experts in the scientific community for resolution rather than engage in political activism.

Similarly, we defer the bee supply and U.S. border issue to the regulatory agencies who have determined that there is a high risk of introducing bees with undesirable diseases to our country. The Maritime Beekeepers Association, which I represent on the Canadian Honey Council, has consistently voted against importing package bees from the continental U.S.A.

We perceive another serious risk to Apis mellifera and pollination in New Brunswick is due to starvation, with the vast majority of the province's woodlands containing scant summer blossoms. When pollination is complete — and wild blueberry pollination is the largest crop we have in New Brunswick — we rely on the goodwill of local farmers to allow us to place our colonies on their property, out of the way.

The modern-day shift in agriculture practices is one of the causes for concern. The increase in corn plantation is virtually of no benefit to honeybees. But I understand, in talking to a farmer yesterday morning at another meeting, that corn production is going down because the price is dropping. So that's probably an advantage for beekeepers.

Also, farmers tend to mow their alfalfa and clover crops as they come into blossom, when they are at their peak of nutritional value, thus depriving the bees of the vital pollen and nectar they need for overwinter survival.

Another factor is that blueberry growers have discovered the economic value of bees, and some are beginning to overstock their fields. The result is a bumper crop of blueberries, but the downside is where we once could count on a surplus of honey from the blueberry blossoms, the colonies come out lighter than when they went into the fields.

An added risk of losing pollinators for blueberry growers is the fact that there is a decreasing supply of honey in North America, which is causing the price to rise. The buy local movement is also a contributing factor, and as the price of honey increases due to generalized decrease in honey production, it becomes more economical not to move the bees to pollination and take advantage of early summer honey crops from wild flowers. The normal price for pollination is in the vicinity of $140 per colony. A lot of farmers and beekeepers are often tight-lipped when they talk about price, but I can pretty well guarantee that the average price is about $140.

It's easily feasible for colonies in wild flower infested areas that are in blossom throughout the summer to produce 100 pounds of honey, which can sell in local markets at a retail price of up to $5 per pound. The general price of wholesale — perhaps Mr. Paradis can tell you better than I because I'm not in the honey business, rather the pollination business — is slightly over $2 per pound this year, and that's pretty good. That's a record price for wholesale. With 100 pounds of honey at $2 per pound, it outstrips the cost of pollination. It's not a far-fetched scenario, and there is already talk of Ontario beekeepers weighing this option.

New Brunswick is heavily dependent on the honeybees coming in from Ontario because we can't meet the demand in New Brunswick for wild blueberry pollination. We have about 7,000 or 8,000 colonies that go to blueberry pollination. An extra 20,000 are trucked in from Ontario and Quebec. That's unfortunate because it would be nice to keep those dollars inside the province.

There is an opportunity perhaps to resolve the starvation problem by having all government highways and those types of projects incorporate the seeding of roadway shoulders with seeds from perennial flowers that are normally considered weeds. I would suggest dandelion, purple vetch, Dutch clover and other flowers that bloom at different times of the year. Not only would it provide forage for bees, it would stabilize the land and provide food for small, seed-eating wildlife.

There are also tracts of abandoned farmland becoming overgrown with alder bushes. These lands could also be planted with the above crops, and also sweet clover.

Sweet clover can grow up to five or six feet tall, two or three metres tall. Unfortunately, along the highways of New Brunswick it's a risk because the deer can hide in there. We can't see them. They can jump out on the roads rather quickly, so the government keeps the sides of the roads mowed quite closely of this plant. We call it sweet clover because it has three leaves on it, and it is a clover technically, but doesn't look anything like clover.

These fields that are going fallow could be planted with this sweet clover, because it's a favourite of the honeybees.

So there is sweet clover, and perhaps even cash crops. Borage is a good cash crop, but it's considered a weed by most farmers. Borage, of course, can be used in foods, and they use the oil from those seeds for medicinal purposes.

We've already been forced to begin feeding pollen substitutes and sugar syrup to our bees, but it's receiving less than stellar results to help them overwinter.

That's my presentation.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Vautour.

Now we will go to Alberta, with Mr. Paradis.

Michael Paradis, Owner/Operator, Paradis Honey Ltd.: Thank you.

I'm a commercial honey producer in Girouxville, Alberta, pretty far north in the Peace River area. I operate 3,500 beehives, with enough equipment to run 6,000. I have a fair amount of equipment that's empty. I'm also seventh generation in this business, and to my knowledge, the oldest family in beekeeping in Canada. I do pollination services in the Lower Mainland of B.C.

The issues that I see arising in beekeeping in Alberta and Canada: varroa mites and resistance; American foulbrood resistance; importation of packages; we need a healthy toolbox for the beekeepers; a little bit quicker response from CFIA, PMRA; of course, there's the neonicotinoid problem; and the opportunities arising that we are facing.

Varroa mites are not a new animal. It's the same mite; it's just resistant to the chemicals we're using now. We all know that bugs of any kind, the more you use a chemical on them, they will become resistant.

Paul mentioned that we've been using amitraz-based product for the last four years in Canada. Normally, five to six is all you will get out of it, so within five or six years, we are going to see resistance.

I know American foulbrood is a contentious issue with a lot of people across the provinces. You're looking at the man who had the first case in Canada. It is an issue; however, it is not an issue. It's necessary to understand that American foulbrood has been with honeybees since honeybees have been around. The only difference is that with the invention of the Langstroth hive, it's been able to be passed around from one beehive to the next. Before, with the skep hive, this wasn't an issue. The bees do have a mechanism to help them combat it, though.

With regard to the importation of packages, I think we should be able to import packages from any place that the disease profile meets what Canada's standards are right now. We shouldn't import anything that has any other diseases, but if we have the disease and the other country has the disease, I see no reason why we shouldn't be allowed access to those products.

Canada and the U.S. had a symbiotic relationship pre-1988. There was a lot of genetic work done. They would send their packages to us. In the fall, we would in turn send our queen bees back. They would reuse those genes and send them back.

Mr. Chair, you have a confused look on your face. The reason I'm skipping and adding a few things is because the gentlemen before me raised all of those other questions before.

The Chair: Thank you.

Mr. Paradis: I see no reason to waste time on stuff that's already been discussed.

The relationship we had with the U.S. was a good relationship. We are now importing package bees from New Zealand and Australia. Those bees are at the end of their season over there, and we're importing old-age bees from these countries. The thing is with these old-age bees, we don't get the buildup that we find necessary out of them. They arrive in Canada in poor condition, mostly due to heat, rain and transport delays through transportation.

Other things have to be considered when transporting bees. What would happen if some of those bees escaped in the cargo area of an airplane and made their way into the cabin over the Pacific at 40,000 feet? There wouldn't be another bee being shipped by an airplane anywhere, at any time. It's just a matter of time before it happens. The more you push the envelope, the sooner it's going to happen.

To think that diseases are going to stop between Canada and the U.S., or from Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, it's very foolish. The past 20 years should have taught us that. The border closure in 1988 was to be temporary, closed for tracheal mite. However, the head-in-the-sand mentality took over, and over most of Canada, the tracheal mite was widespread within two years.

About the same time that the tracheal mite was widespread in Canada, the varroa mite showed up in the U.S.: Number two reason to keep the border closed. Within five years, the varroa mite was also widespread through most of Canada. I have my own theories as to why this situation occurred, but it's pretty obvious that protectionism didn't pan out, was a complete failure.

I'm here today to discuss and answer questions about bee health, but one must realize that bee health in Canada needs importation of packages, which is what we're doing now, regardless.

With regard to the tools we need, we need practical research; out-of-the-box thinking; access to more products, hard and soft chemicals; perhaps better control of the harsh chemicals that we use by using it for two years and switching to a different product, amitraz to acid products; pressure and aid to big corporations like Bayer, Monsanto, et cetera, to develop the products for beekeepers and help them to bring it into the marketplace rather than put a lot of legislation in front of them to discourage them.

In regard to the risk assessment, it's our opinion — and mine in particular — that it is very flawed. I don't know who the persons are who critiqued this document, but these people don't understand honeybees or diseases. Statements like the U.S. bees are not healthy, on one page of the risk assessment, and a couple of pages later, that the U.S. has increased their hive count by 100,000-plus colonies, one doesn't pencil out the other. You need healthy bees to increase; you don't need sick bees.

The research dollars we give away to many projects run a five- to ten-year course. We need to police and make major adjustments and encourage change in the thought process of academics. If a project is not going the way they thought and is going sideways, quit wasting money on it. Move on to something that will make sense.

If the beekeepers don't have healthy bees and a healthy economic business, there's no need for research. Without us, we don't need them. It's plain and simple.

The fact is if we're allowed to do what the bee industry needs to do, without so much government intervention, but instead assistance from regional and provincial support, the industry would thrive.

Neonicotinoid use: Well, there's no doubt that neonics are not good for all insects, beneficial and pests alike. Good science has yet to prove one way or another to what extent it affects the bees. But what is clear is that the dust clouds that arise from the action of seeding are not working. This needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

The question is: Is there even integrated pest management going on in big farming? Every seed is coated with a neonic. Why?

The opportunities for the pollination business of blueberries on the East Coast and the West Coast are only going to grow with the demand for the health benefits of berries. I believe that the demand will soon reach well over 70,000 hives for pollination. This business could easily take over the fisheries in the East and in the West.

On the Prairies, it will be the increase of hybrid canola, and canola and clovers in my area. There are tens of thousands of acres of canola that don't even see a bee, with all of that nectar and honey production potential wasted. And they don't see a native honeybee either.

The hive numbers in Alberta only went up because of pollination and as a result of wintering losses and the need to get ahead of the loss curve, making up a one-frame nuc for next year's honey crop.

The way the winter losses are calculated for provincial numbers in my view is incorrect. In my operation, I calculate the loss directly to how many empty pallets and boxes I have to fill. It has nothing to do with what goes in the building and what comes out of the building, what goes in in September and comes out in April. It's what is lost from the fall before from culling and all of these things. My wintering losses could be 25 per cent over the winter from September to April, but the actual losses are closer to 40 per cent.

The business of raising queens in B.C. is not likely going to happen. They had 25 years to figure that out and they still haven't gotten it. It's mostly climate-dependent. We don't have the climate in this country to do it, not at the time that the commercial people need it. We can produce a lot of bees — that experiment has been done — but not queens.

Things to remember are that honeybees are not native to North America. They were imported. It was previously thought that there were two different bees — the Africanized bee and the European honeybee — but DNA testing this year confirmed that all honeybees come from Africa and they all have genome Africanized markers.

In closing, we must all remember that we live in Canada, and it's 22 below at my house right now. Yesterday and the day before we were working bees; it was minus 36. We were working them in the shop getting ready to send them off to pollination. It's the best place to manage and produce honey. It's the absolute worst place to winter bees. Temperatures that range from minus 60 and then rise within two weeks to plus 10 and then back down to minus 40 is not conducive to honeybees at all.

The Chair: Thank you, very much, Mr. Paradis.

Senator Mercer: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Again, we continue to learn more as the study goes on.

Obviously, Mr. Kittilsen, I will want to ask you a question first, being from Nova Scotia. You answered the question people always ask about the sign on the Trans-Canada Highway coming from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, which is ``no importation of bees,'' which is a strange sign to see on a highway.

Also, with all due respect to Mr. Paradis, who talks about the inevitably of the diseases catching up, if you get an extra five years without disease or parasites, that's real.

You mentioned, Mr. Kittilsen, that the major user of the services of beekeepers suddenly cancelled contracts in one year. What was the cause of that?

Mr. Kittilsen: We do not rent to that grower. I know many beekeepers who did, and I'm not privy to their boardrooms. It was rumoured that it was low price or anticipated low price for blueberry pollination. The grower in question at the very last minute decided he needed some bees, so some beekeepers were able to supply some beehives. Most of the beekeepers had already prepared them for summer honey collection instead of going to the blueberry fields for pollination, so it did cause quite a wrinkle for the beekeepers in Nova Scotia. If I'm not mistaken, Nova Scotia had one of its highest yields of honey that year on average.

Senator Mercer: You did mention another problem that may not be unique to Nova Scotia, but it certainly is a problem. As someone who lives in rural Nova Scotia, I know of the explosion of the black bear population. How significant is that?

Mr. Kittilsen: When I first started beekeeping — I still keep honeybees in many of the same areas — at that time we had to have no electric fences and we lost no bees to honey bears. Now we have to continually fence our bee yards with an electric fence to protect the honeybees from the black bear population.

It's also a problem in the blueberry fields because they are in the woods or along the edges of woods. Some of the blueberry growers would like to spread their bees out, but because they're responsible for the honeybee colonies while they're in the blueberry fields, it's very expensive to fence each and every beehive location.

Mr. Vautour: On the bear problem, it's economics again. We used to have hoards of hunters come up from the United States. With the economy slumped down there, we're not getting those hunters any longer, so the bear population has grown extensively.

I have had bad experiences with bears in the blueberry fields especially because the growers, as he says, want to spread the hives around in different areas, but they sometimes don't realize that bees will fly up to two miles. So spreading them around in a field doesn't help them much, I don't think.

I lost a lot of bees, but the good part is that these growers were bringing in bumblebees in boxes — they call them quads; there are four nests — and honeybees are much better pollinators than bumblebees. We know that the individual bumblebee is a better pollinator by the way it works the flower, but when you get a clutch of maybe 75 bumblebees in one of those quads, those nests, compared to about maybe 20,000 honeybees going out, they win hands down every time. Honeybees are much better than bumblebees for pollinating.

We discovered that the bears liked the bumblebees better than the honeybees, so they were going after them. It gave us a chance to get in there and get some electric fences up.

Mr. Paradis: Black bears are not just a problem in the East. They are a problem all over. We have approximately 120 fences that we use. from electric fences to permanent ones. Personally, I plan on losing 250 hives a year to bears. I plan on it. Black bears are a huge problem. As Mr. Vautour said, we used to get a lot of American hunters coming up to shoot bears.

The biggest problem with black bears is they populate a lot. One mother will have up to five cubs. Everyone wants to shoot a huge black bear, but no one wants to shoot the problem ones, which are the smaller ones. They want the big ones on the wall; they don't want the small ones.

Senator Mercer: By that time, it's too late. Perhaps a solution is that we do a cull of black bears.

Mr. Vautour, in your presentation you said an added risk of losing pollinators for blueberry growers is the fact that there is a decreasing supply of honey in North America, which is causing the price to rise. I thought it was a good thing that the price was going up. If I were producing honey and the supply was going down, the law of supply and demand would be a good thing if I had more honey to sell than the next guy.

Mr. Vautour: You are correct, but the problem is that it's the blueberry growers who need the pollination. People will stop going to blueberry pollination because they are overstocking their fields, not getting a crop off the blueberry blossoms, which is an ideal honey; it has a totally different flavour than all the other honeys.

They just won't go to blueberry pollination. They will keep the bees at home in their own fields and save on the cost of transportation. Transporting is hard on the bees also, so there could be a decline in the number of bee colonies available for pollination.

Mr. Paradis: The price of honey is going up, but at what point will it start affecting the consumer? That's the main thing. There is a point where the consumer will not purchase honey any longer.

While you're saying that supply and demand will drive the price of honey up, it will also drive the imports in. It was previously thought that Canada had a huge supply of cattle, but we're now importing beef because there is not enough beef in the country. So it's a very tricky situation.

Senator Buth: Thank you very much for being here today.

One of the issues that has come up, and you have raised it as well, is whether we should restrict the package bees coming across the border. We get this dichotomy in terms of this has worked for us but it hasn't worked or there is a delay of several years.

Can you give us advice in terms of how to sort that out? If we were going to make a recommendation one way or the other, do you see an opportunity for beekeeping associations or beekeepers to agree on whether we should allow importation from the U.S.? How do we as a committee resolve that? Or how do the beekeepers resolve that?

Mr. Vautour: I'll take a stab at that. I did a stint on the Canadian Honey Council, which is the body that represents beekeepers nationally. Paul replaced me, and now I'm back in there again.

We've wrestled with this question for many years. It has been going on for 20 years, and it's hard to get resolution because some of the provinces are doing well. In southern Ontario, the Niagara region, they are doing quite well, and they don't really need to bring packages in. Their climate is such that they can maintain themselves.

I think Nova Scotia's climate is quite good in the Annapolis Valley region for the early production of bees. British Columbia is in the same situation. They have milder weather, so they can build up their bee populations.

But in other areas like the northern climates where you get those terrible cold seasons, it's hard to keep bees alive up there; they have to import bees from outside the province.

There are different opinions from the different provinces, and we've never been able to resolve it. Paul may be able to talk about it also because he has been through it, too.

Mr. Kittilsen: Yes, that is an interesting question. We haven't been able to agree on it since 1987 across the country. I don't anticipate we will be able to any time soon.

In our own operation, we've developed management techniques where we can multiply our bees in July after blueberry pollination, and we have plentiful hives to make splits from. We then winter them and either use them in our own operation or we sell them to beekeepers that want to start an operation. We have started two or three beekeepers in the Maritime region now, and it can work. It works better on a smaller scale.

Part of the issue is the price of pollination. Do we sell the hive or do we run the hive for the year? Years ago, the price of pollination began increasing slowly, but I do not believe it has kept pace with the challenges that beekeepers face, which is a bit of an issue, especially now when we are getting more pressure from honey prices. I believe Mr. Paradis is correct: Honey prices have gone up in the past and they have come back down, so I think we have to be ready for that. Definitely an increase in the price of pollination would help our industry immensely.

Currently, the bees are coming from Ontario into Nova Scotia for pollination under permit. Nova Scotia has a restricted border, but it's not fully closed. As long as the disease profiles are the same, bees may be imported into the province under permit, and I think that Nova Scotia would agree to any hive importation or bee importation if the disease profile is the same as we currently have in our province.

Mr. Paradis: This is a contentious issue. As Paul said, no one has agreed on it since 1988.

I will say that the diversity in Canada in the area of beekeeping is immense. There are places where there is no doubt it works very well. There is a reason why there are 85,000 hives from Alberta that run into the southern parts of British Columbia. There are hives from Manitoba that are trucked into B.C. for overwintering. However, B.C. isn't big enough to house all of the hives; there is not enough room there.

Wintering is a challenging thing in the Prairies. Last year was a very good example of that. I believe Manitoba had almost seven months of winter, and it's going to be that way this year as well.

Senator Buth: Yes. Thanks for reminding me.

Mr. Paradis: Which will not be much different from what we're experiencing in the Peace River region. If you draw a straight line east across Canada from my house, you're going right to Gander, Newfoundland. You're going north and it's cold. I'm not the furthest beekeeper north in Alberta. There are still a couple of commercial guys that are 200 miles north of me.

But, as Paul said, they are allowing imports into the Maritimes under restriction, as long as they meet the disease profile. Why is that not the case with package bees? We can't survive without packages and that has already been proven. We're bringing them in from offshore, from tropical countries where they have diseases that we don't and that the U.S. doesn't.

Six years ago, the U.S. was allowing imports of packages from Australia. They quit importing bees from Australia, and they actually closed the door for the export of bees from Canada into the U.S. because Canada still imports bees from Australia. That's a serious thing to look at.

So if the U.S. believes Australia has more bugs than Canada, why is our regulatory agency not taking a better scientific look at what's going on? This risk assessment sitting beside me isn't worth the paper it's written on.


Senator Tardif: Welcome, we are pleased to see you here this morning. My question is addressed to Mr. Paradis. And I must say to my colleagues, since I am from Alberta, that the name Paradis is very well known in the province as being an excellent producer of commercial honey. Congratulations, you are the seventh generation of beekeepers; that is wonderful.

Mr. Paradis, in your presentation you made certain statements I would like to look at. You indicated that academics needed to change their way of thinking.

You also stated that the government should let the beekeeping industry do what it has to do without intervening, but that the industry would receive funding from the regions and provinces, and that it could prosper.

Could you give us some more detail on those statements?


Mr. Paradis: What I was saying in that statement is we have studies going on by our provincial apiculturists and our so-called bee scientists. They come to us. They want to do a project. I will use formic acid, for one example, to control varroa mites.

Formic acid has been used to control varroa mites for the better part of 20 years. Is there a necessity to do another study on how it's being used and the most effective way to use it? The wheel is already made. Do you really need to reinvent the wheel?

If your results are not beneficial, at what point in a study do you stop, or do you have to proceed with that study right up until the end? If five years into your project you can see that this product will not work no matter what, do you have to spend that extra money and finish that project? In business, if it's not working, we change gears and go the other way, or we drop it.

That's what I meant by spending wisely and changing the academic thought, because the academic thought is to proceed until the very end of the project. If you don't spend those funds, you're not going to get any more funds, and that's a common thing.

I forgot the second part of your question.

Senator Tardif: It was about government intervention.

Mr. Paradis: Government intervention meaning that they're allowed to use Apivar — the product we use for mites — in France. France is a trading partner with us. Why did it take six years for PMRA and CFIA to get on the bandwagon and say, ``Yes, if you guys need it, you can use it''? Why did it take so long? If our trading partners are using products to control mites, what is the deal? What is the problem?

Senator Tardif: In your opinion, you would like to move and use that product sooner.

Mr. Paradis: Exactly. Efficiently, quicker. Give us more tools to use but not continuously use.

Right now, Apivar is the only product we're allowed to use along with the past two products that we were allowed before this, but the past two products had built up resistance. If we would have been using Apivar and a combination of the other three, we may not have any resistance to any of the three. Why do we have to wait and then all of a sudden start searching for another one and then use it until it's totally exhausted?

Senator Tardif: What is your feeling about neonicotinoids? Does it affect bees in your area?

Mr. Paradis: There is no doubt about it that neonicotinoids are affecting bees, but to what extent? The science is not in on that at all.

The seeding of corn is certainly an issue. There is no question of that. I've seen that with my own eyes.

The question about neonics — Paul and I had supper last night. I just read something from Australia. Australia is doing the same thing you people are doing now. They've had a Senate hearing. They have come back and said that neonics are not a problem and that they are actually doing good things for bees because they're not spraying 15 times for bugs. It's a one-shot deal.

I think it's a razor blade to walk on. One side is going to get cut and the other side is going to cut. Which side is going to hurt less?

Senator Tardif: You have an interesting way of putting things.

Mr. Paradis: Reality is reality.

Senator Tardif: You said that it was coated. Why did the seed have to be coated?

Mr. Paradis: Exactly. Why does Bayer, Monsanto and Pioneer have to coat every seed with neonic? Neonicotinoids, right now in preliminary science the terminology is that the compound stays in the ground for up to 10 or 15 years. Is it a necessary thing to have every seed coated?

When we're treating our bees for foulbrood, we don't treat every beehive. We treat the beehives that are sick.

If you don't have a problem in your field, do you need every seed coated? My farmers are asking me that. Why do we have to buy seed that's already treated? We can't buy untreated seed.

Senator Eaton: Mr. Paradis, your family has been in the business for seven generations as beekeepers, so you must have family history in keeping bees. Obviously, father to son, father to daughter learnt.

Mr. Paradis: A lot of crazy people.

Senator Eaton: It's obviously paying off for all of us.

What are the things historically? Did your grandfather have varroa mites or American foulbrood? What things have surfaced in the last 10 years that perhaps your father or grandfather or great grandfather didn't have to deal with? Surely that's part of your history.

Mr. Paradis: There have always been contentious issues in beekeeping. Probably the biggest thing in the early 1950s was American foulbrood. American foulbrood is something that has existed with bees, I think, since bees existed.

The normal course of action with American foulbrood prior to human intervention, before people were keeping bees, is that bees would make a nest, whether in a tree or log or in a branch or under a cliff. They would build up to a certain strength and swarm, meaning the colony would split in two, three or four factions depending on how many queens were raised. A portion of bees and a queen would leave.

When the original mother nest got too dirty or American foulbrood or European foulbrood showed up, which is a bacterial fungus, all the bees would abscond and leave that nest. Mother Nature would take over in the U.S and in much of Europe. The greater wax moth would come in or a black bear would come in and destroy the nest. The old existing nest would be gone, done.

The swarming action and actually leaving the nest would break the cycle of American foulbrood for a long enough period of time to rejuvenate and start another nest.

Senator Eaton: What has changed?

Mr. Paradis: We have changed it; human intervention. When I said that the Langstroth hive is the mother of all inventions for beekeeping, it's true, but it also facilitates the moving of disease from one colony to the next.

Senator Eaton: What is the Langstroth hive?

Mr. Paradis: It is the standard beehive that you see in the fields now.

Senator Eaton: So they're the white boxes you see.

Mr. Paradis: The white boxes, which have removable combs in them.

When we're making up our losses, we take combs with bees and put them in a new box; you're transferring the disease from that hive to your new hive.

Senator Eaton: What did your grandfather do about overwintering?

Mr. Paradis: In Quebec, they overwintered them in a caveau, in an underground building, so to speak. It was half underground and half above ground. One of my cousins still uses the same one that was used 80 years ago.

The overwintering in Quebec has always been a constant practice, even back to the 1960s and 1970s, simply because most of the availability of package bees was from California or way south in the U.S, and it was too costly to get the bees into Quebec. It was much easier to winter them.

Senator Eaton: But it worked.

Mr. Paradis: It worked only because of the level that Montreal is at. It's a much warmer climate than Girouxville, Alberta.

Senator Eaton: Yes, but you couldn't do the same thing in Alberta?

Mr. Paradis: We do have indoor wintering buildings in Alberta. We do all of that. But how long is winter in Montreal?


Senator Eaton: Winter is long and lasts five months. I am from Montreal and you are not going to tell me that winter is short.


Mr. Vautour: To answer your question, in New Brunswick, what used to happen — and this is before my time. I've only been in this for close to 30 years now and I'm in one of those ``serious side-liners'' I talked about. I had a career in the civil service. I retired early and took this up because I wanted to continue my education. I got sidetracked by the bees and then I couldn't stop.

In New Brunswick, and I think probably in Nova Scotia, too, before my time they used to actually gas the bees, kill them in the fall and collect the honey, and they would bring packages in from the United States. A package of bees from the United States back then was something like $5, and they could probably collect 150 pounds of honey from those hives that they made up from those packages. That's how they did it.

One of the problems is with the comb and the removable frames in the hive. The old beekeepers that I met when I first started beekeeping used to brag about how long they kept this honeycomb. It turned black after it was in there for a while. You can imagine the diseases that were building up in that old honeycomb. Today, we understand that to change this comb is a good thing, to put new comb in every four years.

Senator Eaton: I'm asking the question because, as in farming practices, we know now that you have to come back. Sometimes the old ways had reasons, composting all those things. That's why I'm asking you about beekeeping. Are there some old ways we should be bringing back?

Mr. Paradis: Yes, that's exactly it, which is what I was getting to. The fact that we were using American foulbrood, for an example, if you take your bees and put them in a package from the U.S., even if they have resistant American foulbrood in that operation, you are not going to transport that American foulbrood disease in a package into Canada. A lot of people don't understand this, for one reason: Bees in a package for four days, the American foulbrood spores run right through the bee. They're gone; they're completely gone. You're 98 per cent sure that it's not going to come in. Nobody takes this into consideration, which goes back to the idea of the bees swarming out of their swarm. That was their defence mechanism, because they're not going to be able to transfer any pollutants back into their new hive because they've already cleaned themselves out.

In northern Alberta, when we were bringing in packages, by stacking the boxes in the shed for the winter, we were keeping ourselves clean, inadvertently. We know that now, but didn't know that then.

Mr. Kittilsen: I learned beekeeping from a beekeeping gentleman who is now 91. There were bees on the farm the day he was born there. I learned how to winter bees, so wintering bees was never a problem for me in my operation, but it was a problem for people who had never done it. Because I grew up with wintering, I learned the trade.

Senator Eaton: What did you learn?

Mr. Kittilsen: I learned the techniques of how to manage a beehive.

A couple of things have changed. We have varroa mites now. It's more evident that they carry viruses that we don't even know about in bees. We're learning about these viruses. This is new. We have methods of treatment, but the varroa mite is basically the equivalent to my having a dinner plate on my side sucking the blood out of me. It's a bug on a bug. It's hard to kill. The mite can quickly develop resistance to the formulas we use for killing it. We have bees now that have these problems that we can't necessarily see, whereas in the old days we knew that when a black bear beat up the hive, it probably wouldn't survive the winter. But with the mites, it's harder to detect some of these issues.

Mr. Vautour: For your information, there is no cure for American foulbrood. You cannot cure it. Once the spore is there, unless you irradiate it, which is a very expensive process, you can't get it out of the honeycomb. It's there to stay. Once a colony dies, for example, if it dies from American foulbrood, other bees will go rob that hive and pick up those spores and bring them back to their own hive. There is no cure for it. Burning is the only cure for it. You have to get rid of it.

Senator Eaton: Unless you go back to the old way and get rid of the viruses.

Mr. Vautour: Over the years, different problems have arisen. Acarapis woodi, which we call tracheal mites, get into the breathing tubes of the bees. It began in England, I believe, but it just about wiped out the bee population in Europe at one time. It's what we call tracheal mite here. Most of us have it, but we've eliminated it in Nova Scotia. There's no trace of it in New Brunswick now. What we're using is this organic chemical called formic acid.


That acid is produced by ants. When an ant stings us, it is formic acid that burns us.


Formic acid is produced naturally in the environment. We're treating our hives for varroa mite with formic acid, which is an organic material, and we found out that that's also killing these tracheal mites. We've been able to eliminate the tracheal mites by using formic acid. Over the years, things have been developed by the scientific community.


Senator Maltais: Welcome, gentlemen, and thank you for your expertise. Mr. Paradis, allow me to congratulate you on being beekeepers from father to son. In Quebec, the Paradis are known for being excellent politicians, both federally and provincially.

You said something that intrigued me. You stated that a solution or possible solution might reside in new pesticides that would destroy the parasites the bees are suffering from. I thought that we could perhaps turn to science to find a solution for the parasites that are it would seem the main cause of bee mortality, both yours and throughout Canada.

If we asked pesticide makers to find a solution, in 15 days they would have one. But if that solution is not a good one, it may destroy not only your bees, but everything else around, as well as agriculture.

As for coated seeds, you explained to us that the molecules may be around for 15 or 20 years in the soil and water. In my opinion, we have to call that procedure into question and closely examine how we could arrive at a solution that will not lead to another ecological disaster somewhere.

Where I come from, we say that putting a band-aid on a wooden leg cures nothing. I think we have to find a solution between science and beekeepers and not immediately involve pesticide manufacturers. In fact, we heard a Dalhousie, Nova Scotia, professor, who presented an excellent statement on this topic. I think the solution resides somewhere between you and science.

I would like to go back to black bears. We have to remember that the black bear has four months of the year to feed and put on weight. If we put electric fences around the blueberry fields, we will be taking that bear's daily bread out of his mouth, and killing it is not necessarily the right solution.

I am from northern Quebec, and I can tell you that black bears survive solely on berries. There are injustices vis-à- vis the beekeepers, but there are also injustices to fishers. For instance, if I fish in a salmon river and a few dozen metres from me there is a black bear who is fishing for salmon, he eats it. If I catch one, I have to put it back in the water. So that is unfair.

The Chair: What is your question, Senator Maltais?

Senator Maltais: We are told we need to preserve our blueberry crops, but we also have to protect black bears. My question is this: would you agree to see producers from each province work to find a solution, in cooperation with the Canada research centres, one that will not destroy other species or plants all around? It is a very simple question.

The Chair: Mr. Vautour, I believe the question is for you.


Mr. Vautour: I don't want to steal Mike's thunder, but I'm a third generation beekeeper also. My grandmother kept bees when my grandfather wasn't around; she kept them and kept the family alive, but I didn't know that until after she died. I didn't learn anything from my ancestors.

But on the pesticide issue, about 10 years ago, when I was midway through my beekeeping experience — I've killed a lot of bees from a lack of knowledge or whatever, because keeping bees is a complicated business. There's an art to it. The scientists have their take on it, but really beekeeping is an art, as Paul explained. He had to learn how to overwinter bees, et cetera, and so did I.

As far as black bears go, I used to make a glib statement that bears have to make a living, too. But once I lost 26 out of 28 hives from one bee yard, it made me sit back and say that I have to do something different here. So we uses electric fences, which don't hurt the bears too much, except my wife accidentally leaned on an electric fence one day and almost went down. I took to laughing and she was going to divorce me on the spot. The fence gives you quite a jolt, but it doesn't really hurt the animal. They can be effective. I didn't have one hive lost last year, and I'd normally have at least a dozen hives taken out, and I'm only a small operator.

On the idea of overwintering, I've taken a bit of a different tack. I'm not getting into chemicals as much as I used to. I use formic acid quite a bit. I know Paul had reduced his formic acid use; I'm not sure if he's gotten back into it or not.

I'm testing an overwintering strategy now, not as a scientist because I'm just a practitioner. I left a bunch of hives out this past winter just the way they were. It will be the survival of the fittest. If Darwin has his way, whatever survives will be what I breed my future bees from, hopefully to get a new stock of bees. It's the same thing for the American foulbrood problem. There are certain bees that can genetically take care of the problem themselves. We can put chemicals in there; we can put antibiotics in the hive as a prophylactic in the springtime, which will prevent American foulbrood. The foulbrood larva is only susceptible for about three days of its life. After the egg the queen has laid hatches, the first three days of the larva's life is when they're susceptible to American foulbrood.

The queen starts by laying a little clutch of eggs. Then she lays up to 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day. As these eggs hatch, that's when the big risk for American foulbrood is. If we use a prophylactic treatment in the springtime to save those young bees, the hive builds up strong enough so they can take care of the problem. The bees that have the genetic capability of doing so can sense these larvae are dying from the foulbrood, and they can remove them before they turn into spores.

Yes, there are ways of combatting the risks out there without getting into heavy chemicals.

Mr. Kittilsen: I want to assure the senator that we only fence as much as necessary to keep our bees healthy. They pollinate lots of wild blueberries in the woods that the bears harvest, and I think the bears are doing fine, thank you.

Mr. Paradis: It is the same in Alberta, hence the reason why we have so many fences. We take care of our bears and we feed them.

The comment about finding something to eradicate the mites is not as simple as it seems. They've been working on an AIDS vaccine far longer than they've been working on mites, and they haven't eradicated it yet. I don't think you can eradicate anything Mother Nature has out there. You may be able to control it in order to live and work with it, but you're not going to eradicate it.

Paul mentioned formic acid. I'm going to go back to before 1988. In about 1986 we were banned from the use of a product called phenol or carbolic acid. We put that product on a lid on top of the beehive, and it would chase the bees out of the honey boxes and out of the hive. We could take the honey box off with no bees in it. We used to do this four to five times a year, per beehive, as they did in the United States and most of the world.

All of the sudden, all within the same couple of years, the world decided no more phenol, no more use of that product because it is a cousin to formic acid, but it is a man-made acid. There was a little bit of abuse of it and they were finding residue of it in the honey, so they said ``no more.''

But when I said I have my own ideology as to why the mites showed up, we were treating the mites with that stuff long before we knew they were in those beehives. This is a symbiotic relationship that's been there for a million years in one way, shape or form. None of this stuff is new. It's just that we now have the tools, the knowledge and a better vision to find out what's going on.

Senator Ogilvie: Thank you, gentlemen. I must say, I've found this a fascinating morning. I come from a long ancestry in rural Nova Scotia, and I've always admired the practical good sense of people who live in rural areas and their ability to observe reality in issues. There have been some very thoughtful comments here today based on real observation.

I have a quick comment with regard to phenol and formic acid. Both are dangerous compounds and are quite different in terms of chemical structure and makeup. With phenol, we've learned we have to be very careful with its use.

There are significant issues that you've raised today, but we don't have time for me to ask you the questions that I would really like to put to you, so I'm going to ask you a couple of short questions, just for my information.

Mr. Paradis, you've mentioned this, but I forget: How many hives do you run per year?

Mr. Paradis: We try to run 3,500 colonies, but we have equipment for 6,000.

Senator Ogilvie: You're willing to seed 250 to the bears, as an approximation?

Mr. Paradis: Every spring, we try to get up to that magic number, but we will try to stave off next year's losses by making up to 2,000 nucs for next year.

Senator Ogilvie: I just wanted to know the rough percentage, what investment in loss you were making with the bears relative to the total.

Mr. Vautour, we have heard from others that there is a great deal of unused or underutilized land that could well provide tremendous foraging areas for bees. Road shoulders and other areas of nature have been raised by beekeepers and producers across the country, Alberta in particular. An issue has been identified regarding the amount of loss of rough terrain. It seems to me that this is a real opportunity, because maintenance along our highways is a very expensive process with regard to just letting it grow up in the wild areas. Deliberately seeding with varieties that could provide good forage for bees, among other small animals, and that do not grow to any significant height but which are real colonizers in terms of ground cover, is a logical thing for the beekeepers and the provinces to interface with as one element of a long-term strategy.

Mr. Vautour: We're working on it.

Mr. Paradis: Imagine the amount of roadways in Nova Scotia, but just imagine the amount of oil field leases in Alberta.

Senator Ogilvie: Absolutely. It seems to me to make sense.

I have a question that interests me. The real issue here is that we can't just talk about nature taking care of things, because the minute you start harvesting things on a commercial basis, you are no longer dealing with dear old Mother Nature in a pristine sense. One does have to bring in interventions that are well thought out and are studied, and ultimately experience shows what's best to occur.

We know that in nature there is a wide range of pollinators, a wide range of bees and pollinators, other than the honeybee and the bumblebee. What I'm seeing — I paid attention, or noticed it because of the study — is that certain major hardware operations are now selling hives for wild bees to individuals, shall we say, absolute amateurs. One can go in and buy one of two or three different types of hive and the idea is to hang it on the east or south side of your building or a tree or something in your yard, and you'll have your own little wild colony. I guess it's kind of like feeding the birds, where we see bird feeders all over the place.

The professional beekeeper has a species that doesn't just stay in a farmyard like cattle; it mingles with all of the wild pollinators out there. Is there a potential danger that these amateur hive collections intended for wild pollinators could in fact come to be an issue for you with regard to the development of new diseases and other kinds of issues that you might face?

Mr. Vautour: No. I've had a look at that also. I call myself a serious side-liner and I do a lot of volunteer work. I filled in as the chief inspector for the province one year. We had a volunteer group of inspectors who would go around and inspect hives. I was the chief inspector and I did a lot of talks. I was looking at these gadgets also. The one I was interested in was the blue orchard mason bee. I did a few talks on it to various garden clubs and that sort of thing.

I don't think we'll see conflict. They're totally different. These are almost solitary bees. Except for the wasps, the hornets and the bumblebees, most of the other bees are solitary. They don't build nests. They're not a social insect. They do their own thing by themselves.

I don't know if you are aware of it, but blue orchard mason bees nest in a little hole that the beetles have made in rotten wood. They will nest in there and pack it with mud. That's why they call them mason bees. They're individual bees, so they don't really interact with our bees at all.

Mr. Kittilsen: I agree with Senator Ogilvie on trying to get some areas across the country planted in bee forage. I have one example. We've worked with a mining company in Nova Scotia where we keep bees on the edge of their quarry and they've changed the seed mixture that they use on their tailings. It seems to be a good thing. We see bees in it, at any rate.

Further to that, this winter I was at the meeting of the American Beekeeping Federation in the southern U.S., and they were talking about the value of talking to their government about doing a similar program, planting bee forage in areas that are available for such.

Mr. Vautour: In fact, they have done that in the Midwestern United States, where the majority of bees are being overwintered in the Dakotas. The United States government has put out a project. I can't remember the value, but it's in the millions, and they are seeding down there.

Also, in New Brunswick, Senator Mockler would probably be interested to hear, that since they've closed the Minto mines, they've planted them with birdsfoot trefoil to reclaim those grounds where there was nothing there, no value to the earth. They've planted that for bee forage in particular. They came to us and asked if we would be interested in putting bees in there. We all jumped at that, but one person got the contract sorted and he unfortunately failed two years later. But he was a new beekeeper.


Senator Dagenais: Thank you very much to our three witnesses. My questions are for Mr. Kittilsen. Throughout the Maritimes, I have heard it said that a study was done concerning the interaction between pesticides and the bee infestation. The study concerned, among other things, varroa and nosema.

Can you tell me what the conclusions of that study were, and if there was a similar pan-Canadian study?


Mr. Kittilsen: I believe you're referring to the Nosema apis study.


Senator Dagenais: Yes.


Mr. Kittilsen: I'm not aware that it has been done across Canada. It was done within our province by a master's student who has now completed his PhD and is working in Switzerland, I believe. It has shown that one of the diseases, Nosema apis, now Nosema ceranae, within the bee — it operates at a different time of year. It's more a topical disease, and so it's a bit more of a problem in the summer months. We have a medication that is successful in treating for that protozoa.


Senator Dagenais: Is that a pan-Canadian study? Because I thought I understood that a study was done in the Maritimes?

Mr. Paradis, did you want to add something?


Mr. Paradis: This study is not across Canada yet. Certain provinces are doing it. Beaverlodge has been in it. I am involved and was involved right from 2002, when we first found Nosema ceranae in Alberta.

The interesting thing is that most of the Nosema apis that was done prior to 2002, I believe — I'd have to check with Dr. Pernal — was presumed to be all Nosema apis, but lots of it was Nosema ceranae. It's a different shape and form in the microscope, but its shape is so similar that unless you're keen on it, you cannot tell. The only way to tell is through DNA, to have a positive thing, which requires a big pocketbook and a lot of time.


Senator Rivard: During the past few weeks, witnesses appeared before the committee and told us that there was insurance for winter hive mortality and that insurance was available to Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan producers.

Today we have the good fortune of having a producer from Alberta here. Mr. Paradis, are you interested in this winter mortality insurance? Do you take some out, and more? And if not, why?


Mr. Paradis: I've taken it for two years, but it doesn't work. The reason it doesn't work is they come out to inspect your bees for your primary inspection in the spring when people are either unwrapping their beehives or, in my case, going through them after wintering. However, your winter losses do not stop at that specific point in time.

In the last couple of days, Monday and Tuesday, we were going through some bees in my shop. We went through well over 1,000. The average at this point is 14 per cent. From my experience, we're going to double that by the time May rolls around, when we start making up our losses.

Your primary inspection should not be at the time you go through your beehives and discover the number you've lost. It should be the number just before you start making up your losses because you will lose right up until that point. Now your bees are strong enough to make up your losses. That's your definitive winter loss, not the number they have pegged it at.


Senator Rivard: Is this insurance offered by a private company, a cooperative or by the Government of Alberta?


Mr. Paradis: This is government-run insurance. Alberta and Manitoba insurance are symbiotic in the way they operate.


Senator Rivard: I will now address the representatives from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This insurance is not offered in your area; would you consider it beneficial?

Mr. Vautour: Production in New Brunswick may not be sufficient for that. There may be two beekeepers there who are earning a living with honey production.


That's their only source of income. There are only a couple.

We rely on the AgriStability program through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, but the problem with AgriStability is it only kicks in 18 months later. You have to try to borrow to make up your losses and wait for AgriStability to kick in, but it always lags. If that could be improved somehow, we would be happy.

Mr. Kittilsen: I would be interested in such a program in Nova Scotia. It is not currently offered. The crop insurance program in Nova Scotia offers wildlife compensation if our bees are all fenced properly. If a bear makes it through the fence, we are offered compensation and it does help.

Our bee yards are scattered perhaps an hour's drive from our central property, so it's hard to watch them all. We have perhaps 60 or 65 different locations that we try to manage, and so any program is of benefit to a beekeeper. At the end of the day, we have to make so many dollars a hive, and how we get it is . . . .

Mr. Vautour: We did have an opportunity to get involved in New Brunswick, but the cost of the insurance was prohibitive. We couldn't afford to buy into it, but we did look at it in New Brunswick.

Mr. Paradis: Perhaps the correct insurance would be a whole hive insurance that encompasses bear damage, skunk damage, raccoon damage, wintering, everything all in one. A hive is worth $250; if we lose it, you help us pay for it.


Senator Rivard: Is Canada self-sufficient? Does the production cover the needs of the Canadian market, or do we have to import honey? Is the annual honey production sufficient for export?


Mr. Vautour: We are not self-sufficient in honey. We import — I can't remember the numbers, but Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada produces a monthly report on imports and exports. We are nowhere near being self-sufficient.

We export a bit. I think the United States is probably our main customer, but we import so much more from Argentina and I'm not sure where. I'm not in the honey business; I'm in the pollination business.

Mr. Paradis: Most of my crop is exported. Eighty per cent of it goes either to the U.S. or offshore.

I don't believe that our imports are something to be concerned about; we're not at that point yet. Alberta produces enough honey to supply all of Canada. However, most of it is exported to the U.S. The honey produced in most of Ontario and Quebec is locally sold to fill those niche markets, so I would say that the importation of honey at this point in time is not that big of an issue. I would say that if we continued on the path we are on with the beekeepers now, yes, within 10 years we could be looking at a problem.


Senator Rivard: Thanks to NAFTA, there are no barriers preventing us from exporting to the United States, to American companies. Is that correct?


Mr. Paradis: Yes, there is 1 cent per pound levy on honey going in. There is a mountain of paperwork to fill out. It's the same situation when we ship overseas to Europe or Asia. Checks and balances are in place for that.

Senator Eaton: Gentlemen, is there any breeding that you know of in Canada to try to produce a bee that is hardier to our winters?

Mr. Paradis: Thirty years ago there was a program in northern Alberta, at the national research centre in Beaverlodge. It was led by a fellow who is now in Guelph, Ontario, Tibor Szabo. It was called the Alberta bee project. Well over a million dollars was put into the project at that time. It took beehives from our outfit and about 25 other outfits and selected the best of the best and bred from them. It was an ongoing project. It ran for about 10 years. They sold queen bees and genetics, and then it was donated to Fairview College for their safekeeping. Fairview College cancelled their beekeeping program. They had an auction sale and I bought it. So yes, there are genetics.

There is a project in Saskatchewan that is developing a northern bee, but the problem with these bees — mine included — is how to get them out to the masses in a timely fashion. We all need our queen bees in March and April in order to produce a honey crop.

Senator Eaton: I don't quite understand.

Mr. Paradis: We need our queen bees at that time of the year. There is no way to raise queen bees in this country in order to hand out to the masses at that time of the year.

Senator Eaton: In other words, you use your bees for producing honey, but no program is taking those bees that are hardier and actually breeding them to produce more hardy bees?

Mr. Paradis: Just the producers themselves are trying to do this because we don't have access to commercial guys doing it for us.

We did take steps five years ago and exported queens from us into the United States to two queen breeders in order to get those genetics en masse back into Canada, but the amount of paperwork that took, I'm not doing it again.

Do you understand what I'm saying? In order to get that stock back here in a timely fashion, we have to send it someplace much warmer than Canada.

Senator Eaton: Would you be recommending that a university like Guelph or a university in Manitoba or Saskatchewan restart the winter bee breeding program that could increase the number of hardy bees for sale?

Mr. Paradis: No, I would not suggest that at all. The money would be better spent on buying a tropical island so that we could breed them there and send them back.

The Chair: Before we go to Senator Mercer, Mr. Vautour, you wanted to make a comment?

Mr. Vautour: I'm amateurish at this; I'm not a scientist. But I am trying to do that myself by going to my hardiest hives, the ones that have overwintered on their own without support, and I find them. They are just booming in the springtime, raring to go. I'll breed from that queen.

I'm not sure whether you understood why we can't have our own queens early in the spring. Unfortunately, the poor drones are all kicked out of the hive in the fall of the year. The drones are the male bees.

We can raise the queens, but we can't get them to breed here in Canada early enough in the season because there are no drones. The drones will only come later on when the weather warms up.

Senator Eaton: If you had a special thing where you waited until the drones came and bred, and you did a breeding operation —

Mr. Vautour: There is a problem with that also because the queens, when they leave the hive to go out on their mating flight, they go into an area that's called a drone congregation area. Drones come from all around and just hover around waiting to mate with the queen. She'll mate with up to about 20 of them, but we don't know what the breed of that drone will be. So the genetics will be mixed up again, unless you artificially inseminate them, which is not all good. Although, it's being done in the United States, and they could probably do it in the universities, yes, but for mass production, I don't know if you could do it.

Mr. Kittilsen: I agree. I think breeding is part of the answer. I think it's been proven. We can build better bee genetics, but then the varroa mite came along, and it really doesn't care about the genetics, whether it's a winter or summer bee.

Senator Eaton: No, but if we could remove one problem off the table, overwintering.

Mr. Kittilsen: It helps. It has been done with some success in Nova Scotia. One breeder in particular has kept records since probably the early 1970s and had bred a steady line of bees and has a good quality bee for Nova Scotia, but he can only mate them in July. We need them in April and May.

Senator Mercer: Mr. Kittilsen, in your presentation you talked about a module course entitled ``The Modern Beekeeping Basics to Business'' that Dalhousie, I assume through the agricultural college, has developed, and you also said that the course has been full for the last couple of years. Are there other programs like this across the country? We're raising the level of sophistication. I assume this is helping other people in the business not make the same mistakes that some have made.

Mr. Kittilsen: That's correct. There is another program in the country at Fairview College. It was a program in the 1980s, and it was discontinued and restarted. I'm sure Mr. Paradis knows more about that.

One of the issues we found is we had a young fellow that worked for us for two or three years. He decided he wanted to start his own beekeeping business, and one of the difficulties was getting him financed. The provincial Farm Loan Board, Farm Credit and the banks were a little reluctant to lend to young people, despite him having excellent credentials. He has been very successful in starting up his own operation. It was quite a challenge getting him financed.

Mr. Paradis: Approximately five years ago we resurrected the Commercial Beekeeping Program at Fairview College. It's currently run by the Grande Prairie Regional College. The campuses are symbiotic.

At the same time as we developed that program and resurrected it, we were in discussions about pursuing the Beaverlodge Research Station, raising it to another level.

Now we have this Commercial Beekeeping Program at Fairview College, but we also have the National Bee Diagnostic Centre that's in Beaverlodge, which is something to see. It has all the tools and toys needed for testing honeybees in every way, shape or form. They need a few more tools, but the whole idea was to have the students and everyone working together there. All the new generation coming out is well aware of the tools, programs and what is available.

As Paul said, financing is a real challenge. If you own a quarter of land in Alberta, you can finance that quarter of land for 35 years and just pay interest on it. You can't do that in beekeeping. You have to have that debt paid within 10.


Senator Maltais: The bees we are talking about were imported from Africa, were they not?


Mr. Vautour: I can reply to that. The big threat that everyone sees here in Canada is importing Africanized bees. They have them down in the southern United States.

I don't know if they made you aware of the experience down in South America, where they first came in. I think it was through Brazil. They got loose. However, they were not able to survive south of the 30th parallel, and that would mean they cannot survive, let's say, north of Texas or areas like that.

These bees have certain traits about them. When they swarm, meaning their method of reproduction, they swarm so often that they can't store enough honey to survive the winter; so those bees can't survive in our area. Perhaps the genetics could mix with our bees.

These bees are very defensive of their hives. This would be the biggest threat to our beekeeping community, to have a scare thing on and start with this killer bee stuff.

People down in those countries where they have Africanized bees are dealing with it. They are collecting honey and are able to live and work with these bees.

This is one of the threats we see. We wouldn't want the media to make a big issue out of it, but they have these Africanized bees down in Florida. That doesn't stop Quebecers and Maritimers from flooding the place down there every year. So they're really not afraid of the bees.

Sorry, I got diverted there.


Senator Maltais: About 600 years ago in America, pollination was happening, was it not? Who was pollinating the flowers, blueberries and raspberries? We had no African bees and no white person had yet set foot in America.


Mr. Vautour: Yes, but because of the size of populations now, we have monocultures and they must have the pollination. There are no more wild bees.

Incidentally, bees were imported from Europe. There are no natural bees here. However, back hundreds of years ago there were small mixed farms, and they didn't really need the pollination or the wild bees pollinated.


Senator Maltais: Those bees are infected, but there are still a few wild bees.

Mr. Vautour: Yes.

Senator Maltais: Are they infected?

Mr. Vautour: Apparently, they are.


From what I understand, wild pollinators are dying off. That's a problem. There are studies being done now on that, yes. The idea is that single crops must have hundreds, thousands or perhaps millions of bees out there to pollinate. I can't remember what the numbers are in the almond fields in California, but I understand that 2 million hives are brought in for pollination.


Senator Maltais: I will not talk about California, Africa or Brazil. In Canada, something was pollinating flowers before bees arrived. Bears were not the only species eating blueberries, others were as well.

But these are these so-called ``indigenous'' bees infected like the bees imported from New Zealand, Florida, California, Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala and elsewhere?


Mr. Kittilsen: What Mr. Vautour is getting at is that now we have a monoculture that is sprayed with insecticides, so the native pollinators are taken out. They are not available to pollinate in blueberry fields. We've intensified the management of the blueberry fields and now they have many millions, maybe even a hundred million blossoms per acre, and that requires a large number of honeybees to pollinate.


Senator Maltais: And if there had never been any pesticides in Canada, from Victoria to St. John, would the bees nevertheless be in poor health?


Mr. Kittilsen: Probably not, but as humans we do our best.

Mr. Paradis: I think I understand the senator's concern. The concern is this: Are our native pollinators disappearing?

The simple answer to that question is yes, because of the pesticides and the way we are treating the lands. Once you're seeding only canola, or you only have blueberries, you don't have a full grocery store of food for the bees or for the natural pollinators.

If you try to survive only on McDonald's hamburgers, you're not going to live very long. You need everything that's out there. If you come into my country and you stand up on the top of a beehive and look east, west, north, south and all you see is yellow as far as you can see, there's nothing but canola flowers for our bees and the few natural pollinators that are left over. Then along comes the spraying equipment and the neonicotinoids take care of some of that. Your natural pollinators are just crashing. We can't move the natural pollinators. We can move our beehives.


Senator Maltais: Mr. Chair, that is what I wanted to hear and finally, someone had the courage to say so. Thank you, gentlemen.


Senator Buth: As we hear from different witnesses, we hear different things and there are experts in specific areas. We did hear from a researcher from the University of Saskatchewan whose entire study is on native bees. He did comment that there is a lot of variability across the country in terms of native bees and there is a variety of different species. When I remember looking at one of his charts, it's actually the Prairie provinces that have quite a bit of diversity in terms of native pollinators.

I wanted to clarify that because I think at one point a statement was made that there are no native bees, but that's not true. Yes, they are threatened and, yes, it's pesticides and, yes, it's habitat loss, and I really appreciate the comments of Mr. Paradis. It's modern farming practices, but it's not something that causes us to suddenly return to no farming practices. Actually, honeybees wouldn't be around without modern farming practices and the crops that essentially are providing honey and also pollination.

I wanted to clarify that. There are different witnesses who come in with different areas of expertise, and we've heard from the native pollinator person.

The Chair: That was a very good clarification, Senator Buth.

Before we adjourn the meeting, I would like to share with the three witnesses that since we began our study, we have heard from scientists, academics and many stakeholders from industry and the equipment manufacturing companies. We're heard about best management techniques for our land and soil. I would certainly say that the three of you have impressed us. We thank you very much.

Before you go, I have one question. You have the leaders in front of you that can make three recommendations to improve bee health. Collectively, with your experience, what would be the three recommendations that would help bee health in Canada?

Mr. Vautour: Education of the small beekeepers because their practices impact on the large commercial beekeepers.

The Chair: What would be the second recommendation?

Mr. Kittilsen: We need help in managing our varroa mite with new products, new research, and new methods on how to control this very devastating pest of the bee colonies.

Mr. Paradis: We need access to bees, as long as they fit the profile that Canada has. We don't need any new diseases, but we certainly shouldn't restrict the ones that exist in other countries with the same disease profile as we have.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

(The committee adjourned.)